Dr Ward Blanton

Reader in Biblical Cultures and European Thought

About

Dr Ward Blanton came to the University of Kent in 2013, after spending most of his early career at the University of Glasgow. He received his PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University in 2004, working with biblical scholars, historians of ideas, and continental philosophers to try to map new ways of understanding the shared genealogies and competitive struggles of biblical studies and philosophy within European academic contexts. 

His work during that period (cf. Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament) was often focused on the ways common tags like critical thought, modernity, or the secular seemed to slip into something more rhapsodic, religious, or strangely biblical than we tend to imagine.

Later work took up this ancient/modern issue of ‘Jerusalem and Athens’ (often by way of Berlin, Paris and Rome) through a focus on Paul the apostle as a figure of continental philosophy and psychoanalytic cultural theory (cf. Paul and the PhilosophersA Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life; or his work on Stanislas Breton and Pier Paolo Pasolini).  

As Karl Marx famously declared, modern models of cultural critique and political revolution were premised upon ideas and tactics associated with the critique of religion. In that sense, the modern critical study of the Bible (just for a start) exerted a profound influence on a modern culture of criticism, whether religious, social, or political. Ward is very interested in this history and the ongoing legacies of radical philosophical and cultural critique it nourished. As we continue to wrestle with the force of markets, religions, and social hierarchies in relation to difficult questions about human freedom, a creative rethinking of this tradition of textual and cultural critique remains as important as ever.

Research interests

Ward is currently working on an ancient philosophical commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans and trying also to develop a new philosophical and religious genealogy of the ‘securitisation’ of religion or the militarisation of affective sociality (e.g. with logics of auto-immunity). This latter work is deeply engaged with the writings of Hegel and Heidegger, as well as with encounters with this tradition in Jacques Derrida, Peter Sloterdijk, Slavoj Žižek, Roberto Esposito, and Alain Badiou.  

Teaching

Ward teaches on gods and government, and on the philosophy of religion.

Publications

Article

  • Blanton, W. (2010). “Reappearance of Paul, ‘Sick’”: Foucault's Biopolitics and the Political Significance of Pasolini's Apostle. Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 11:52.
    It is worth reflecting on why much of what now fits under the more general heading of the “turn to religion” in philosophy and critical theory may be described as organized around high profile discussions of Paul by Jacob Taubès, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek. On this score, it still seems safe to claim that precious little
    unpacking of this phenomenon has yet occurred, above all because such labour requires sustained interdisciplinary work that is (let’s face it) not easy in the increasingly routinized, professionalized, streamline d “research time” of the
    contemporary academic. Without mourning or lamentation, however, it is nonetheless true to claim that most philosophers
    still do not know the basics of the past fifty years of biblical scholarship on Paul.

Book

  • Blanton, W. et al. (2016). An Insurrectionist Manifesto: Four New Gospels for a Radical Politics. [Online]. New York: Columbia University Press. Available at: https://cup.columbia.edu/sampler/9780231541732/google-preview.
  • Blanton, W. (2014). A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life. [Online]. New York: Columbia University Press. Available at: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-16690-4/a-materialism-for-the-masses.
    Review
    Ward Blanton's handling -- and mastery -- of Western philosophical traditions provides a much more convincing account of Christian origins as well as a greater appreciation of the ways in which power works in the present. -- James Crossley, University of Sheffield Ward Blanton attempts nothing less than the overthrow of an understanding of Paul that has dominated philosophical criticism since Nietzsche. Blanton is convinced that Paul is better understood within a repressed tradition of Western thought that Althusser called a 'materialism of the encounter' and that Blanton names 'materialist spirituality.' He pursues two intertwined goals: the destruction of the image of Paul as a metaphysical dualist and the resurrection of an originary Paulinism which is materialist in invigorating life in this world with messianic hope. Blanton writes with an intensity that is hypnotic. There is nothing like his book in existing scholarship. -- Laurence L. Welborn, Fordham University In this exciting new study, Ward Blanton further solidifies his reputation as the most adventurous and rigorous scholar of his generation as he reimagines the historical meaning and political impetus of early Christianity and its ongoing, indeed increasing, effect on the most enduring philosophical and ethical questions of our time. A worthy successor to his groundbreaking Displacing Christian Origins, the argument of A Materialism for the Masses is deeply original and, once again, compellingly demonstrated. Much has been made in recent years of the return of the idea of communism, the common, and the concept of materialism it must necessarily invoke, perhaps resuscitate. Here Blanton fills an important lacuna in this debate by offering an extensive prolegomenon to any future materialist spirituality that deserves its name. He does so by revisiting the archival source and conceptual apparatus found in St. Paul's New Testament letters and some of the early Church Fathers, among others, whose fortuitous return to actuality under presumed postsecular conditions we have barely begun to comprehend in all of its promise and no less pertinent peril. He demonstrates that reviving the political Paul neither commits us to the reductive materialisms nor to otherworld religiosities of old but prepares us for a world without foreseeable limits or end, a world in which we may once again come to believe -- that is to say, an eternal life for which we must be ready to fight and create. Timely and provocative, Blanton's book challenges our preconceptions with a thorough scholarly treatise that proceeds in the guise of a deeply personal and passionate manifesto, therefore advancing and altering the terms of conversation as all insurrectional thinking surely must do. -- Hent de Vries, Johns Hopkins University

    Product Description
    Nietzsche and Freud saw Christianity as metaphysical escapism, with Nietzsche calling the religion a "Platonism for the masses" and faulting Paul the apostle for negating more immanent, material modes of thought and political solidarity. Integrating this debate with the philosophies of difference espoused by Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ward Blanton argues that genealogical interventions into the political economies of Western cultural memory do not go far enough in relation to the imagined founder of Christianity.

    Blanton challenges the idea of Paulinism as a pop Platonic worldview or form of social control. He unearths in Pauline legacies otherwise repressed resources for new materialist spiritualities and new forms of radical political solidarity, liberating "religion" from inherited interpretive assumptions so philosophical thought can manifest in risky, radical freedom.
  • Blanton, W. (2007). Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament. [Online]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Available at: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/D/bo5503964.html.
    Review
    "The time is ripe for Displacing Christian Origins. Over the past two or more decades, there has been a growing interest among many biblical scholars in continental philosophy. At the same time, there seems to be growing interest among some philosophers in moving beyond simply reading biblical texts without reference to or engagement with biblical scholarship. This brings much to the table, pushing biblical scholars and philosophers to engage one another with higher levels of literacy in the other's field." - Timothy K. Beal, Case Western Reserve University"
    Product Description
    Recent critical theory is curiously preoccupied with the metaphors and ideas of early Christianity, especially the religion of Paul. The haunting of secular thought by the very religion it seeks to overcome may seem surprising at first, but Ward Blanton argues that this recent return by theorists to the resources of early Christianity has precedent in modern and ostensibly secularizing philosophy, from Kant to Heidegger.

    Displacing Christian Origins traces the current critical engagement of Agamben, Derrida, and Žižek, among others, back into nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century philosophers of early Christianity. By comparing these crucial moments in the modern history of philosophy with exemplars of modern biblical scholarship—David Friedrich Strauss, Adolf Deissmann, and Albert Schweitzer—Blanton offers a new way for critical theory to construe the relationship between the modern past and the biblical traditions to which we seem to be drawn once again.

    An innovative contribution to the intellectual history of biblical exegesis, Displacing Christian Origins will promote informed and fruitful debate between religion and philosophy.

Book section

  • Blanton, W. (2013). Introduction: Paul and the Philosophers. in: Blanton, W. and De Vries, H. eds. Paul and the Philosophers. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Blanton, W. and Sherwood, Y. (2013). Bible/Religion/Critique. in: King, R. ed. Theory/Religion/Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Blanton, W. (2011). Dispossessed Life: Introduction to Breton's Paul. in: Breton, S. ed. A Radical Philosophy of Saint Paul. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 1-32.
  • Blanton, W. (2010). Albert Schweitzer’s Apocalyptic Jesus and the End of Modernity. in: Moxnes, H., Blanton, W. and Crossley, J. G. eds. Jesus Beyond Nationalism: Constructing the Historical Jesus in a Period of Cultural Complexity. London: Equinox.
  • Blanton, W. (2010). Neither Religious nor Secular: On Saving the Critic in Biblical-Criticism. in: Boer, R. ed. Secularism and Biblical Studies. London: Equinox, pp. 143-164.

Edited book

  • Blanton, W. and de Vries, H. eds. (2013). Paul and the Philosophers. [Online]. New York: Fordham University Press. Available at: http://fordhampress.com/index.php/pau-and-the-phiosophers-paperback.html.
    The apostle Paul has re-emerged as a force on the contemporary philosophical scene. Some of the most powerful recent affirmations of nonrepresentational, materialist, and event-oriented philosophies repeat topics and tropes of the ancient apostle. Other thinkers find in Paul and his numerous cultural "afterlives" the ideal figure to contest both identity politics and the postmodern political fetish of endless openness and the deferral of presence. Paul is appropriated both for and against Kantian cosmopolitanism, psychoanalytic models of subjectivity and power, Schmittian political theologies, Derridean messianism, political universalism, and an ongoing refashioning of identity politics within postsecular contexts. This book provides the most comprehensive constellation to date of current thinking about Paul and his cultural or philosophical "afterlives" in ancient, modern, and contemporary contexts. It is a groundbreaking international and multidisciplinary exploration of the vexed political history of Paulinisms in philosophy and of philosophies in Paulinism. From his very first utterances, Paul's pronouncements as the self-proclaimed apostle of Jesus were curiously intertwined with philosophical discourse, with Paul presenting himself as both philosopher and anti-philosopher. Early Christian receptions of Paul then carefully managed his legacy in relation to the philosophical schools, presenting him alternately as an exemplary Platonist, a purveyor of Stoic spiritual exercises, and someone whose authority outstrips philosophy altogether. In the modern period, various types of Paulinism were imagined serially as possible escapes of philosophical thought from the domination of inherited metaphysics or onto-theology. The contributors to this volume bring unprecedented multidisciplinary expertise to both the historical reception and the contemporary relevance of a thinker who may come to be seen as the defining figure of our political and intellectual moment.
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